Mon, 5:30pm-10pm; Tue-Sat, 5:30pm-11pm; Sun, 11:30am-2:30pm and 5:30pm-10pm
1 at 79th St.; B, C at 81st St.-Museum of Natural History
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The author of this unexpected little miracle is a chef named John Fraser, who has worked in this neighborhood before. Fraser is a veteran of some of the world’s great kitchens, including the French Laundry, in Napa Valley, and Taillevent, in Paris. In this city, he has run a very good Greek restaurant, called Snack Taverna, and a not very good one, on West 70th, called Compass. Dovetail is seven blocks north of Compass, just off Columbus Avenue. The Museum of Natural History is a block away; across the street is a foreboding, windswept expanse of asphalt. A tall glass door leads to a midget-size bar area, which leads to the dining room (which fans out from the front, like a dovetail). It’s not much as upscale restaurant dining rooms go (the tables have no tablecloths, the brick walls are fixed with panels of wood, like in a spartan recording studio), but for an accomplished culinary ronin like Fraser, it represents a major step. He is the restaurant’s executive chef and proprietor, and this is the first place he can call his own.
Comfort is an elusive quality in such a rough-and-tumble profession, even for the most promising cooks. Fraser’s last restaurant, Compass, was (and is) famous for giving chefs the ax. Not surprisingly, his cooking there was disorganized and overambitious; he seemed bent (as I wrote at the time) on packing as much of his impressive culinary repertoire into the menu as he possibly could before, inevitably, moving on. But in this smaller, more placid space, there’s an edited, unhurried quality to the cooking, and the pride of ownership is apparent in almost every dish. After the amuses, our table was treated to a salad of big green Brussels-sprout leaves, balanced with salty serrano ham and slivers of sweet Bartlett pear, all bound with a thin layer of cauliflower purée. Then came an interesting composition of breaded lamb’s tongue, fried to an almost tempuralike crunchiness, followed by braised pork belly, which the chef cuts in little squares, sweetens with sherry-cooked shallots, and blends with kale, frizzled maitake mushrooms, and a single, barely poached egg.Despite its size, and location, Fraser has big ambitions for Dovetail, and why not? As at other destination joints around town, there is a small private dining room downstairs, and if you have the inclination, you can wash your dinner down with a glass or two of ’98 La Tâche Burgundy ($1,840 per bottle) or, even better, a bottle of legendary ’95 Romanée-Conti ($3,700). Whether the city’s true culinary high rollers can be induced to venture this far up into the great northern tundra remains to be seen. Certainly the desserts should do nothing to dissuade them. People at my table made polite noises about the strudel, filled with hot, hazelnut-flavored chocolate, and a lemony creation called the Citrus Supreme. But the dish to get is the brioche bread pudding, an improbably delicate calorie bomb made with bananas, bacon-infused maple syrup, bacon brittle, and a gently melting scoop of rum-vanilla ice cream. The dish is a sly critique of our comfort-obsessed era, and also an homage, and like much of the cooking at this unlikely little restaurant, it’s worth the trip.
At $138, the six-course tasting menu is one of the better bargains in town.
Pork belly, saddle of lamb